Campaigning on Suburban Growth

September 20, 1994

Controlling growth has emerged as the chief issue in this election season throughout Baltimore's suburbs. Candidates who are identified primarily as growth-control advocates last week captured nominations for county executive in Howard, for council president in Harford and for the board of commissioners in Carroll. Moreover, candidates who made controlling growth the centerpiece of their campaigns aren't likely to now abandon what appears to be a winning issue.

However, voters should demand from those seeking public office more than just a pledge that they will preserve their jurisdiction's rural charms. Candidates must offer specifics on how they plan to cope with difficult issues.

For example, how do they plan to persuade farmers not to seek a higher return by turning their grain fields into subdivisions? Are any of these candidates willing to advocate higher taxes to purchase more agricultural easements? If they don't want to raise taxes, what methods do they have to compensate farmers for not subdividing their holdings?

What are the candidates going to do about the lack of infrastructure in growing parts of their counties? How do they propose to build the schools, supply the water and sewers, and build the roads needed for the residential development that is already under way or on the drawing board?

Voters should question closely all the candidates who say that they will not allow development until adequate public facilities exist. A law requiring just that is already on the books in many places. Yet schools in areas such as southern Carroll County continue to burst at the seams, and towns like Manchester and Hampstead are scrambling to find more water to supply the new subdivisions.

Some residents clamor to stop all development. Yet there are many large parcels with appropriate zoning that are ripe for development. Will candidates allow that development to proceed or will they impede it?

Suburban voters deserve more than empty phrases about controlling growth. During the next four years, more acres of farmland and open space will be converted into residential developments.

Voters deserve to know how their elected officials will accommodate the inexorable increase in population, juggle the need to supply services and produce jobs, and yet maintain their county's quality of life. It's not a simple question; candidates shouldn't get away with mouthing simple answers.

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